MOOCs and predicting Hamlet from the atoms in a lamb chop

by reestheskin on 02/06/2016

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I suspect my analogy is wrong, but I am going to persist. In economics, the subject is often divided into ‘micro’ and ‘macro’ — microeconomics and macroeconomics. The problem is how you meld the two together in a coherent intellectual way. To me there is a flavour of the absurdity of John Tyndall’s quote to the effect ‘that it would be possible to predict Hamlet from a knowledge of the forces between the atoms in a mutton chop’ (quoted by the late physicist and sociologist of science, John Ziman).

Yesterday, I was at Senate, listening to presentations on distance learning, MOOCs and ‘disruption’. The memes of my first paragraph came to mind. On the one hand we have the macro world of finance, fashion, innovation, novelty, and professional jousting and jostling for power; and on the other, the micro world of experiment, and laboratory control, and the tired p<0.05 that has come to replace thinking. The former is going to win, because when the search space is so large, intuition is all you have. Academia will indeed change, because many of academia’s methods are what we use once the terrain has been mapped out. We are not there yet, but the insights of the legendary scholar De Selby comes to mind: serious science takes over from relevance.